Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell could add another former Buckeye to his staff this year, at least in an informal capacity.
Fickell told ESPN’s Pete Thamel on Thursday he hopes to have Mike Vrabel around the Wisconsin program “as much as possible” in 2024 in an informal role.
Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell tells ESPN he hopes his best friend and former teammate, Mike Vrabel, can be around Wisconsin this year in an informal role. Hell invite him up to observe part of spring practice and go from there. https://t.co/u1iHzYImkB— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) February 8, 2024
Vrabel, the 2021 NFL Coach of the Year who went 54-45 and made three playoff appearances in six seasons as the Tennessee Titans head coach, did not land with another NFL franchise after the Titans fired him in January. With previous experience as Ohio State's linebackers and defensive line coach (2011-13) and the Houston Texans' defensive line coach (2014-16) and defensive coordinator (2017), it remains unclear whether Vrabel will coach in 2024.
Fickell, Vrabel's friend and former Ohio State teammate, could provide his next landing spot – if Vrabel is up to it.
"I love Mike and want him around as much as possible," Fickell told Thamel. "I want to see how much he'd like to be around, in the spring for sure. And we'll go from there."
After Dianna Russini of The Athletic quoted an NFL GM who implied that Vrabel didn't land an NFL head coaching job because his 6-foot-4, 261-pound frame intimidates front office members and owners, Fickell joked with Thamel that Vrabel does not scare or threaten him.
Fickell, once a three-time Ohio high school state champion wrestler for DeSales High School, would often spar with Vrabel in the Ohio State locker room. The former Buckeye nose tackle and linebacker have remained close personally and professionally since their college careers in Columbus.
Fickell first mentioned Vrabel's potential presence at Wisconsin in a radio interview with ESPN Wisconsin's Wilde and Tausch on Wednesday.
"I talked to him, I think on Saturday, and we hadn't communicated for probably a week or so just because the process was going," Fickell said. "He sounded like a new man. And I'm not sure exactly if this was his choice, or what it is the future looks like. But I know that we're going to have a visitor here that's going to spend a little bit of time, hopefully around us. Starting, coming up in the spring and some things like that, see how much, how deep we can get involved with my buddy and get him around here."
Fickell went 7-6 in his first season at Wisconsin. According to the 247Sports composite, he and the Badgers added the No. 23 high school recruiting class and No. 18 transfer portal class in America in 2024. Fickell also hired several new assistant coaches this offseason, including some with Ohio State ties like Kenny Guiton (wide receivers coach) and Alex Grinch (safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator).